14 April 2006

Ahmadinejad's sense of humor

A surprising article in the Guardian today. Robert Tait tells a familiar story about the Big Brother in the modern environment.

The misdirected email or text message is a hazard of our age. It can sour relationships and upset the closest of our friends. But now a stray electronic missive has been blamed for a spate of arrests, a national scandal and a very grumpy president of Iran.

"Stray electronic missive"? Such naivete from a journalist? No matter, let's see more.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamic nation's firebrand leader, has taken umbrage at an unwelcome text received on his mobile phone. According to whispered accounts in the Iranian capital, his ire was stirred when someone sent him a joke suggesting he didn't wash regularly enough.

Surely he uses uranium hexafluoride as mouth wash these days?

Although officials claim he possesses a lively sense of humour that belies his rather hairshirt image, on this occasion it suffered a serious failure. Realising the joke was doing the rounds of Iranian mobile phones, the notoriously temperamental president lodged an official complaint with Iran's judiciary department.

That in turn has acted as a pretext for an official purge of the SMS system in the country. Mr Ahmadinejad has since told his staff to pay close attention to all jokes circulating about him by text.

An anti-regime website called Rooz Online claims that under the crackdown the head of the country's mobile phone company has been sacked and four people arrested and accused of colluding with the Israeli foreign intelligence service, Mossad.

Aha! I knew it will come up sooner or later. Then the news of the guy having, how to say it - hygienic problems, are thoroughly checked by Mossad and should be taken as correct!

"While the outcome of the recent arrests in connection with SMS messaging is not clear yet, what is certain is that SMS jokes have already put some people into serious trouble," wrote the website Rooz Online.

The clampdown is in line with the authorities' uncompromising stance on the internet and bloggers. Wary of modern communications as a means of spreading political dissent, Iran is second only to China in the number of websites it filters - using technology made in America.

Large numbers of the nation's estimated 70,000 to 100,000 bloggers have faced harassment or imprisonment. The regime has acknowledged monitoring text message traffic. It first admitted it had access to text traffic last December when a military plane carrying more than 100 journalists crashed shortly after take-off at Tehran airport.

So it is not exactly a "stray electronic missive" after all, is it, Mr. Tait? The article seems to be written and signed by one person, so how difficult is it to connect the dots? How difficult it is to see the hand of the Big Brother, specially in a case when the hand is not hiding?

Which reminds me another article from the same place: an hysterical piece by Simon Jenkins. Hardly coherent, it includes the following passage:

One country in the region that has retained some political pluralism is Iran. It has shown bursts of democratic activity and, importantly, has experienced internal regime change. If ever there was a nation not to drive to the extreme it is Iran.

Some burst of democratic activity, indeed. Any more of these, and Iran will start importing barbed wire from the most experienced manufacturers, like Russia and China.

Which, in the context of the subject, reminds me an old Soviet joke: Khruschev tells Kennedy during a meeting: "You know, I just love and collect political jokes. I have already got two concentration camps full of this stuff".


Cross-posted on Yourish.com